I like a good argument. Not the petty kind, fraught with oh yeahs and nu-uhs; nor the kind that doubles as an excuse for intellectual posturing; but the kind that sees two guys (with a bottle of Guinness each) trying to hash it out over, say, the doctrine of the Trinity or Keynesian economics. And they do this, not as a matter of semantics, but with the aim of getting at the truth of the matter. Or at any rate, closer to the truth than they may have already been.
With the Internet, we carry our arguments into the virtual realm. Someone writes a blog post (like I am doing), or shares a link on Facebook, or tweets something on Twitter, and before you know it, a debate is in full-swing. Sometimes these debates are civil, and sometimes they are very uncivil. People sling arguments or they sling mud (or a very confusing mixture of both). Things get out of hand and soon people are losing sleep, punching their computer screens, and generally carrying on as if the world will end if they don’t get in the last word with That Bloody **** Who’s Wrong on the Internet.
This is badly done. And very, very stupid. And probably not good for one’s health.
It does not, however, follow that every argument on the Internet is an exercise in futility. Philip Sydney is my man: “What! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?”
That is largely why I don’t appreciate it when someone comes along and – in an attempt to correct for all the abusers – ends up over-correcting. You’ve probably seen it before, variously worded, but driving at the same thing. An example:
“Wow, that’s a great point. You have caused me to change my mind.” – Virtually no one on the Internet ever
I guess this is intended to be a dash of reality for all the goofs who think living life means winning the War of the Webz. But I think it goes too far. I don’t like it, for a couple of reasons.
First, the assumption seems to be that the only arguments worth having are the ones you end up winning. If the person you’re chatting with isn’t a full fledged _________ by the time you’re done with him, well, why even bother? But you should bother. There are times when a thing just needs to be said, regardless of how many minds are changed in the saying.
Be discerning, of course. You should know when to speak and when to walk away. But don’t let that cow you into never touching a hot issue, simply because you’re afraid you won’t emerge with converts hanging off your sleeves. You may have given the other side something to think about, planted the first seeds of doubt; or you may have unwittingly strengthened the convictions of someone watching quietly from behind the battle lines. Human stupidity is a tremendous thing, but never underestimate the power of words. God could use yours in a way you never anticipate.
Second, and on a somewhat lighter note, the irony of it all just kills me. Here you are, waxing sarcastic about the futility of trying to make a point on the Internet, as you try to make a point on the Internet.
So I laugh a little, because it’s funny. And kind of pathetic, too.